Journey Competition - Runner Up

Damien Mckeating

Runner Up
On an Adventure
Journey Competition


Damien Mckeating was born and a short time after that he developed a love of fantasy and the supernatural. He has short stories included in different anthologies, ranging from modern takes on Irish mythology to SF adventures for young readers. He is fond of corvids, writes daily, and is currently the oldest he has ever been.

On an Adventure By Damien Mckeating

It is easy to go on an adventure. You leave your house and keep putting one foot in front of the other. It’s important to pack well for your adventure. Today, I take a glass marble, a jam sandwich, and a conker on a string. These are good things for an adventure.
    I run down our garden path to the gate at the end. There is a latch on the gate, and both my mum and dad have cut their fingers on it. Or so they think. They did not cut themselves: the latch bit them. It’s a small monster of rust red, squealing metal and it likes to eat fingers.
    This is your first challenge when going on an adventure. It can be hard to leave. Things will try to stop you. You have to learn how to beat them so they don’t bite your fingers.
    I pick up a stick from our garden. It’s from our hawthorn hedge and covered in long, sharp thorns. I hold it carefully and use it to flick the latch. The latch sees the thorns and does not try to bite.
    With the latch behind me I start down the lane. The house next to ours is not next to ours, it is separated by a field, but it’s the closest house to ours. It’s a cottage, covered in ivy, with crooked chimneys and a wild herb garden that fills the air with delicious smells whenever the wind blows.
    It’s home to Miss Langley. I think she’s the same age as my mum, because mum has said they went to school together. Mum said Miss Langley was a flert, which I know is a kind of witch, because my auntie said Miss Langley was an absolute witch.
    Miss Langley is in her garden. She smiles and says good morning. She has dark, curly hair and red lips. There are muddy patches on her jeans from where she’s been kneeling by her flower beds.
    She offers me a cookie, which she had fresh baked that morning. I take one, say thank you, and then drop the cookie in a hedge when she isn’t looking. I know better than to eat food from a flert witch, and so should you.
    At the end of the lane I take the string and conker out of my pocket and lay it across the lane so that Miss Langley can’t follow me. It’s important, an on adventure, to know how to protect yourself.
    I run down the lane and turn off onto the track that goes through the edge of Brocton Woods. The sun is peeking through the leaves and twinkles on the muddy path like blinking eyes. This is why I never wear a skirt when on an adventure: I don’t want the eyes to see my underwear. Also, you never know when you’ll need to climb a tree.
    The path takes me to the bridge over the brook. A troll used to live here, but he was chased off by a mermaid. I’ve seen the mermaid. She has knotted hair, like cords of rope, and pale skin covered in slime, and eyes that are like old coins. Everyone thinks mermaids are nice, but she’s worse than the troll. She grabbed at my feet once, when I was crossing the bridge, and tried to pull me under.
    Today I’m ready for her. I can hear the water bubbling, and that means she’s under the water, sending up bubbles with every breath. I run as fast as I can, my feet pounding over the wooden slats of the bridge. As I run, I throw half of my jam sandwich into the brook.
    I make it to the other side without being grabbed. The half-sandwich was enough to keep the mermaid happy.
    I go deeper into the woods until I find the fire tree. Brocton Wood is home to a dragon. It’s a famous story and my dad tells it to me all the time. In the middle of the wood is a burnt tree. The dragon had set fire to it and made its home there.
    Standing next to the tree, I listen carefully. There is a sound through the trees, of branches and leaves rustling together, and I know it’s the dragon. It’s crawling its way across the branches, moving from tree to tree, its snake-like eyes watching me.
    I take the marble from my pocket and hold it up so the dragon can see it. I’ve made a promise to the dragon: I bring it treasures and it won’t burn down my house. This is the point of an adventure: to perform epic deeds. You have to go into the dragon’s lair and beat it.
    At the bottom of the tree I dig up some soil and bury the marble. In amongst the roots I feel the treasures I have left there before. As I put the marble in the hole, I pick up an old treasure, a silver whistle, and slip it into my pocket. I wait to feel the fiery breath on my back, but the dragon never saw me. I always trick it this way. Dragon’s are full of pride, so you can trick them easily.
    This is the next important part of an adventure: getting home again. My quest is finished, but the adventure isn’t over. My mum says you can never go down the same road twice, and I know what she means. I can’t go back past the mermaid or Mrs Langley; they would be ready for me.
    I go back to the path and follow it further. It turns, looping around, to go behind Mrs Langley’s house and back to my house. First, it takes me past the troll tree.
    A long time ago he lived under the bridge, but the mermaid chased him away. When I found him, he was crying and injured. I helped him, looked after him, and found him a tree to live in. That’s another important part of going on an adventure: looking after people. When you’re nice to people, they’ll be nice to you.
    Next to a patch of nettles I find his tree. I step carefully, not wanting the nettles to sting me, and move around his tree until I see his face. He is hard to spot, if you don’t know to look for him. Sometimes I have to squint my eyes and screw up my face to see him. There’s a knot in the tree trunk that’s his nose, and then two lumps that are his eyes. They’re always there, but they’re not always him, if you know what I mean.
    I put my head next to the tree and whisper “Hello,” to him. You always make time for your friends.
    The troll doesn’t say anything, so I run along, out of the woods and into the hollow way that leads back to my garden. In the hollow way, the fields on either side are high, and it’s like walking through a tunnel. You can move quickly and secretly here, so I know Mrs Langley won’t see me.
    There is a smell in the hollow way. It’s the smell of cow. I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled a cow, but once you have you always remember it. I hear them moving in the field next to me. They moo and fuss and bustle. I like the word bustle: my grandmother uses it when she wants me to hurry up. The minotaur lives with the cows and I hear him snort.
    I stop.
    I freeze.
    I hold my breath.
    There’s another snort. The minotaur protects the cows. He won’t like it if he knows I’m using the hollow way. I wait and listen. I hear his footsteps crunching the grass as he moves among the cows.
    He snorts again.
    I think he can smell me, but he can’t be sure. He snorts and moos and starts to move the cows away. He wants them to be safe. I’d like to be friends with the minotaur, but I don’t know how to yet. That’s another important adventure thing: you’ve got to know when to do nothing.
    I wait until the cows have moved and then carry on down the hollow way. As I go past Mrs Langley’s house, I can hear music on her radio. She must have moved to her back garden. I read a story about women in the sea who use songs to make sailors crash. I wonder if Mrs Langley is practising so she can move to the sea. There are no sailors here. Maybe, she’s hoping to catch farmers.
    There’s a secret door in the hollow way, but you need the right kind of eyes to see it. I know where it is. There’s a hole in the hedgerow, and I squeeze through it, run across a section of field, and then I’m back in my garden.
    You would think that the adventure is over now, and you would almost be right. But once you get back you need to tell your story so that everyone knows you’ve been on an adventure.
    Back in the kitchen, mum is cooking dinner. She tells me to wash my hands and asks me where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing.
    “Nothing,” I say, with a shrug.
    I sit at the kitchen table and eat half a jam sandwich.
    Now it’s over.


Judges Comments

On an Adventure, the runner-up in WM's competition for journey-themed short stories, shows that you don't need to go far to have wildly exciting adventures. In Damien Mckeating's story, the quirky, unpatronising narrative turns a walk into the countryside into a fantastical odyssey populated with witches, trolls, mermaids and dragons. This is a lovely story about the power of the imagination to transform and transcend the everyday.

Writing from a child's perspective runs the risk of the writer sounding twee, patronising or out of touch, but On an Adventure avoids all these pitfalls. The narrator's voice is fresh and convincing, and their observations, which flit between the real world and the world of their imagination, are funny and vividly conveyed. The imaginative journey Damien's narrator takes remains grounded in the everyday, and it's quite clear that the two worlds happily co-exist.

This is a story that would work equally well for a young reader or an adult one. There are lovely touches, like the 'flert-witch', that play with the differences in perception between child and adult, but Damien's greatest achievement in this story is allowing his reader to see and understand the adventure through the eyes of his narrator, and see how the imagination transforms the "nothing" the narrator tells their mother they've been doing into an incredible adventure without them going far from home.